Review: A Dying Fall

A Dying Fall, A novel by Elly Griffiths, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Reviewed by Misha Rai

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Murder with its usual dash of mayhem, bleak British landscape, university politics, Druid networks, toddlers, complicated love triangles, and the Raven King (what archaeological murder mystery would be complete without the King?) all make their deliciously nefarious presence felt in Elly Griffiths’ A Dying Fall. This fifth instalment in the Ruth Galloway series has the archaeology professor running off to Lancashire to solve the mysterious murder of an old university chum, Dan Golding. Ruth hears about his death through a mutual friend, one she has lost touch with; cue nostalgia and two days later she receives a mysterious letter from Golding (written before his death) asking for Ruth’s help on an important find that could have major consequences in the archaeology world.

Although the crime thriller starts out with a scorching murder (Dan Golding seriously burns to death in a fire) the first half of the book is slow on the action. Some of the characters (especially Galloway) spend enormous amounts of time mulling over their lives and the choices they’ve made. Some of these moments are great, especially for novice Ruth Galloway readers, because Griffiths’ acquaints the newcomers with the tangled histories of the series major players—Ruth, Kate, Cathbad (the Druid), Judy, DCI Harry Nelson and many others. Despite the wonderful humour in many of these moments, some of the prolonged scenes are not as engaging. A man has been murdered who may or may not have found the skeletal remains of the Raven King and this discovery is linked disturbingly to neo-Nazis and yet the reader must first wade through pages filled with repeated ruminations. The elements set into motion early on in the novel make it imperative that either someone else must die soon so that the murderer can make mistakes that leads to his/her discovery or a series of suspicious characters be paraded to keep the reader guessing until the murderous plot can begin to untangle.

Griffiths’ doesn’t disappoint. When the story finally springs into motion, the action unfolds quickly complete with disappearing bones, red herrings, live ravens and police detectives of the very best variety: one’s that overstep his/her jurisdiction even when s/he politely trying very hard not to. Very à la The Last Detective with a little less affability and a lot more edge.

There is a wonderful mix of the King Arthur legends, archaeology and good old fashioned, get down on your knees, work through those death threats detective work. The payoff in the penultimate scene of the story is tremendous. When the villain is finally unmasked there is nothing left to do but gasp and hold on to your seats because this is one you didn’t see coming!

Elly Griffiths was born in London. She read English at King’s College, London and worked in publishing for many years. Her crime novels are based in Norfolk and feature Dr Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist. She lives near Brighton with her husband, an archeologist and their two children.

Misha Rai is from Haryana, India. Her fiction has appeared in the Indiana Review and she currently contributes to The Missouri Review blog. She has been Assistant Fiction Editor for the Mid-American Review. She holds an MFA from Bowling Green State University and is currently pursuing a PhD in Fiction at Florida State University. She is in the process of writing her debut novel.